Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: ethics
Friday, 03 May 2013 13:29

Focus Response: Father Jacques Duraud, SJ on 'My God?'

Father Jacques Duraud made this reflection on his own faith in response to the eRenlai focus on faith and god in April this year. How do you conceive of faith and god, or even of a world without belief? Feel free to share with us!

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 28 May 2013 18:34

Gender and Weddings in Taiwan

Red candles, ceremonial cannons, fresh flowers, everybody coming together to celebrate, but with all the throwing of fans (the bride throws a fan on the ground to represent that she's leaving her youthful temper behind her), the bride's mother throwing water at the bride's departing car (spilled water can't be retrieved, which signifies that the daughter should not go back to her old house just like the water can't be unpoured) and walking over broken tiles (which represents overcoming the past and expelling evil deities), the bride can't help but be a little overwhelmed. "Rites" are a kind of standard or a restriction, if a wedding is supposed to be for both the bride and the groom, then why are all the restrictions during the marriage rite imposed on the woman?

Translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart

Tuesday, 28 May 2013 18:26

Keening: Taiwan's Professional Mourners

Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart. Photos courtesy of Liu Junnan and Wang Zhengxiang

When did keening become so forced?

A Mei: 'There was always someone there saying: Now you should cry... You can't cry now...My brother and I often got mixed up, "Do we have to cry now? Or not cry?".
                                                                                                                 -Seven Days in Heaven (2010)

The film, Seven Days in Heaven (Fuhou Qiri) from the short story of the same name, describes the experiences of A Mei, the female protagonist who has been working in the city for many years, on her return to her rural hometown for her father's funeral. There was a montage in the film with a lively Spanish dance track playing in the background, in which the 'keening' during the funeral preparation process is satirized – at one point A Mei hasn't finished eating, and later hasn't finished brushing her teeth, but hears the call "the girl should come and cry", and she has to don her mourning clothes and sprint to the altar to cry – in a very memorable scene. This scene must have made a lot of Taiwanese watching laugh (at least that is what happened with my friends and I), not just because of the comi-tragic sorry figure she cut, but also because we've all had similar – even if not quite as dramatic – experiences and sentiments.

Funerals, always touch on death and separation. Being grief-stricken or crying, is a natural emotional and physiological reaction; however, having to cry or 'keen' under the strictures of a pre-formulated ritual, is hard to think of as 'natural'.

How old is traditional? How new is modern?

In Taiwanese funerals the time to cry is appointed and when that time comes you have to cry, even if you have to fake it, and it's a loud keening wail – this is an element of Taiwanese funeral culture which is often criticized as a corrupt practice. When watching Seven Days in Heaven, A Mei's embarrassment, and the laughter of the audience, reflects the distance that people nowadays feel towards funeral rites.

For the past 20 or so years, a trend towards modernization in funerals has gathered momentum; the customs surrounding the funeral rites, often seen as esoteric were rebranded under the new moniker 'the study of life and death' (a field of study in the Chinese speaking world: shengsixue), advocated in the context of Metaphysics. A milestone in this trend has been the regulatory impact of the 'Mortuary Service Administration Act' promulgated by the Taiwanese government at the end of 2002, an act that states its purpose as essentially advocating conforming funeral customs to reflect the demands of a modern society.

If one compares the funeral model listed under the Citizen Ceremonies' Model ratified by the government in 1970 and similar models offered by funeral businesses today, one discovers that there's not much difference – clearly we haven't completely gotten rid of the old, and welcomed in a new way of doing things, but rather we've adapted and reinterpreted some of the finer details. So, before we rush to accept the traditional/modern dichotomy, perhaps we should ask ourselves what is this tradition that we are talking about? How old is it really? And what about the meaning of it should be reformed?

The shift from secular to religious funerals

To continue the example of keening, let's do a bit of historical research.

Normally people from Han culture think of funeral rites as pertaining to three separate traditions, the Confucian school, Buddhism and Daoism, at the same time, different characteristics sprang up in different localities. The fact that a funeral rite is called a rite () implies that it not only a religious activity; comparing the Confucian, the Buddhist and the Daoist traditions, the relationship between rites () and the Confucianism is much older and much deeper.

Very early on, China already had the concepts of ghosts, deities and ancestor worship, however, from the time of Confucius and Mencius, the rites, although they took their origin in belief and sacrificial rituals, developed by Confucian intellectuals from the rites of Zhou has always been secular, the main thrust of which was concerned with governing the behaviour of man. Confucianism tends to a belief that improving one's own sense of morality can give order to society, and allow one to accept one's place in life; they didn't feel the need search for consolation in imagining ghosts or deities. Therefore, the funeral rites and customs Confucianism advocated didn't include religious mysticism, but rather they reflected the 'normal' social order and social contract.

Pursuing harmony and rationality in this world, cannot ease the primal terror that people feel when faced with death, and this pursuit is unable to answer people's questions or speak to their imaginings of the afterlife. The narrative of life and death in Confucian thinking, advocating the ideas of putting the service of man before the service of spirits and that of keeping a respectful distance from ghosts and deities, is not enough to satisfy these questions; so, as Buddhism, which had come from elsewhere, and the home-grown Daoism came to fruition in the Wei, Jin and North-South dynasties, the system of rites surrounding funerals associated with Confucianism became intertwined with those of Buddhism and Daoism; with the changes in the way people think about the world, the secular Confucian orthodoxy has gradually become less dominant, under attack as it was from modern ways of thinking; supernatural religious belief was able to come to the fore in funeral rituals, revealing even more clearly the shift towards thinking from a religious perspective.

哭喪04Restraining Grief, a Thousand Year Old Ritual

However, in the midst of this trend, keening is considered an example of a more 'classic' ritual.

As the Chinese equivalent to "I'm sorry for your loss", which translates roughly as "Restrain your grief, so that you can adapt to the loss", which people today still use regularly, can attest to, the main tenet by which the Confucian system of rites deals with crying or keening during the mourning period emphasizes mediating grief by controlling one's physiological reactions. The passage 'Questions about Mourning Rites'in the Classic of Rites (Li Ji) is an early record that, even in the case of mourning for parents, the mourning period shouldn't last more than three years, the purpose of this is in the hope that people will gradually be able to exercise emotional restraint, and return to their customary life in society. This current of thought continued until after the Song (960–1279) and the Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties, when Confucian scholars gradually compiled Family Rites wherein the role of crying as a stage in funeral rites was laid down more clearly in writing, this included instructions like the following: on the death of a relative or a friend, you cry loudly (the person is dead so you can cry); throughout the period when one is offering sacrifices for the dead, one can cry if one feels sad (there's no appointed time for crying, when grief comes one may cry); but once the body has been interred, during the 'Enshrining the Spirit' ritual, one can only cry in the morning and in the evening (crying at dawn and at dusk); after a year of mourning, one should stop crying – this is where the idea of appointing the times when one could and could not cry came from in part.

As well as this, keening in this context, isn't simply 'crying', but rather it involves singing a keening song (dirge). From the perspective of the Han people, the folk keening dirges can be sung in several different ways, some are freestyle with no limitations on content, others, however, have words, but most are sung by women, such as wives and daughters on the death of an elder; during the funeral rites of the Zhuang, the Yi and the Jingpo peoples, all minority ethnic groups from the South West of China, one can always find rituals which fuse dance and keening dirges to express and relieve grief.

Can grief-stricken keening be carried out by proxy?

We can say for sure that keening is a part of a funeral culture with a long history, and it had a rich significance, and not a negative one, so is it right to label keening as a aberrant practice?

In the film Seven Days in Heaven, as well as the 'genuinely' filial daughter, A Mei, who feels bewildered by the keening ritual in the process of the funeral, there is also another classic role associated with crying: the 'fake' filial daughter A Qin, who keens professionally. In the film, A Qin is a larger than life career keener who can turn her tears on and off at the drop of a hat; the idea behind this character comes from the Chinese expression for a professional keener 'Xiaonvbaiqin'(孝女白琴 literally: filial daughter Baiqin), which formed a part of Taiwanese funeral processions (zhentou 陣頭) ten or twenty years ago. Somehow, compared to the relatives of the dead not knowing how to cry, spending money to hiring a perfect stranger who is in this profession to keep up appearances for them by 'performing' grief, seems a lot harder to reconcile with the practice of 'rites', but in Taiwan, this phenomenon has really taken off.

In fact, as well as "Filial Daughter Baiqin", another element of the parade tradition (zhentou 陣頭) with which Taiwanese readers will be familiar is the part called "Five sons cry at a tomb" (Wuzikumu 五子哭墓), these all play a part in "orthodox" Taiwanese funeral customs: the latter takes its origin in a Hoklo folktale; the former, on the other hand, is derived from the character 'Filial Daughter Baiqiong' in the 1970s' Taiwanese popular classic puppet theatre The Great Confucian Knight-Errant of Yunzhou (雲州大儒俠) – so these are all relatively "new traditions", so to speak. That's not to say that these more performative examples of keening don't have an element of filial piety or that they don't count as an expression of grief; however if one really goes back through historical records it becomes clear that these performances were actually invented by Taiwanese funeral homes – another relatively "new tradition" which only really started to become popular from the 1960s onwards.

 Because of its close connection with the rise of local funeral home companies, most of the professionals performing as"Filial Daughter Baiqin" normally work for relatively small organizations, often with staff shortages, and they're often responsible for weddings and other celebrations in addition to funerals - working in a variety of different roles, not just in the funeral sector, like performing as show girls on dance floats at weddings - a common sight at local weddings, celebrations and sometimes even funerals. For that very reason, the "Filial daughter Baiqin" profession is one of the most denigrated within Taiwan's contemporary funeral cultural industry, indirectly reinforcing people's negative impressions of this keening custom at funerals.

Overcoming the diametric opposition between "traditional" and "modern"

From another perspective, however, no matter if it's the services performed by the undertaker, the"Five sons crying at the tomb" (Wuzikumu) or "Filial daughter Baiqin", given that the structure of society has changed over time, the way funerals are held has adapted accordingly, making up for something that is now missing from our society (the popularization of funeral homes reflects the weakening of the bonds between people living in the same area and within families, as well as the scarcity of people familiar with rites; the rise of this kind of performative keening by professionals is not unlinked to the shrinking of families and the decline in the number of children), that reflects the psychology and demands of a bygone era. The custom does not take its origins in temples and it does not have a long history, but compared to the esoteric mysticism of the religious conception of rites, it is perhaps closer to the true essence of rites as they relate to the life of the ordinary man.

With the tide of modernization concerning funeral and burial customs, people have advocated freeing ourselves from the corrupt practices of traditional funeral customs and rites: they should be more solemn, there should be no loud mournful keening; they should be simplified and adapted to the times, there shouldn't be such extravagant decorations; one should follow religious practice, and not indulge in petty superstitions... however, these imagined "traditions" cannot be so easily homogenized, and one cannot break away from them simply by constructing modernity in opposition to them. Using the example of keening, we can even go far as to say that 'modernity' surfaces in order to resolve that which seems to be a contradiction or an aberration in any given society – here it would be the aberration would be the idea of a stranger being paid to mourn for one's relatives, but often in problematizing this aberration we flippantly iron out the creases in history, and simply thrust upon it the term 'tradition'. In this way we often remain ignorant to how the same practice, in this case keening, in a different time and place can change in the way it is carried out (i.e. from family members to professional keeners); and how this kind of aberration is a product of historic shifts within a society, and shouldn't simply be banished as a corrupt traditional practice.

Ghosts and deities remain outside of the grasp of human perception, and so judgement of whether something is good or bad is simply a product of our way of thinking and we shouldn't ignore the historical realities that lie behind apparent aberrations.




Wednesday, 03 April 2013 15:27

Human Rights in Taiwan Under Review

From February 25 to March 1 2013, an international group composed by 10 human rights experts and legal scholars was invited to Taiwan to supervise the review process of the country's initial reports under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that Ma Ying-Jeou signed in March 2009. The structure and dynamics of the review meeting made the event unique in its genre, as it did not only expose the official human rights records to the scrutiny of an international committee, but it also provided Taiwan's civil society with the opportunity to actively participate and be directly involved in the monitoring process.

Despite not being a member of the United Nations (UN) since 1971, Taiwan ratified the two UN covenants with the aim to gradually conform its domestic laws and legislations to the international legal framework concerning the protection and safeguard of human rights. The Implementation Act was thus promulgated in December 2009 precisely with the objective to integrate the two UN covenants into the national legal system and to guarantee the actual legal effect of the two international treaties. To assess the degree of compliance of the domestic legal framework with the two UN covenants, an official human rights report was issued by Taiwan's government authorities in April 2012 and was subjected to the accurate examination of the review committee.

"The fact that a group of 10 international experts has been invited to Taiwan to review independently the human rights system of the country is undoubtedly an important fact," said Brian Barbour, Executive Board Member of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network. "Moreover, it was remarkable to have hundreds of officials attending the review meeting every day, along with the presence of local NGOs which had the opportunity to directly speak with the committee members," he further added. Every day from February 25 to 27, the review committee attended formal meetings with NGOs members in the morning and with government representatives in the afternoon. The international panel of experts had therefore the possibility to incorporate human rights official records with in depth information provided by civil society actors.

The panel of international experts has repeatedly stressed the pivotal role that civil society actors had in submitting detailed comments on the situation of human rights in Taiwan to the review committee. Unlike the UN official model for the review of the implementation of the ICCPR and the ICESCR - which does not contemplate the formal partecipation of NGOs in the process, the review mechanism in Taiwan offered local human rights activists and practitioners "the opportunity to establish themselves as an authoritative voice," highlighted chairman of the Union for Civil Liberty Danthong Breen. During the review process, Covenants Watch, a coalition of civil associations set up to supervise the implementation of the two international treaties, and Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) jointly presented a list of 45 core issues that, in their opinion, deserve closer attention by official authorities – and that are further addressed in the human rights "shadow report" which they published in May 2012.

After carefully examining the information discussed during the review meeting, on March 01 the panel of experts finally made public a set of recommendations in a press conference. In the "Concluding Observations" report, the committee members clearly pointed out that since the ICCPR and the ICESCR have been adopted by Taiwan's government as part of the national legal framework, they are already abiding and, in case of contradiction with domestic laws, they should take the precedence over the latter. The international experts thus called for Taiwan's government to strengthen the training of judges, legal practitioners and prosecutors in order to guarantee the proper application and enforcement of the two UN covenant also in practice.

The establishment of an independent human rights commission in Taiwan was highly recommended by the committee members, who further called for government authorities to adopt other UN international treaties and to better comply with the mechanism of human rights protection illustrated in the "Paris Principles".

Professor of law and human rights at the University of Vienna and former UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak pointed out that the most serious problem under the ICCPR is the continuous use of the death penalty in Taiwan[1]. Nowak, who already visited the country in November 2011 to give a speech on torture at National Taiwan University, stated that in the last 15 executions carried out by Taiwan's government there was a clear violation of Article 6(4) of the ICCPR, according to which "anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence."

The issue of the death penalty was a significantly debated topic during the review meeting, especially in light of the recent six executions that Taiwan's government carried out on December 23 2012. When rumors regarding the imminent executions of death row inmates began to spread in late November, two members of the review committee - Novak and Eibe Riedel, had sent a letter to president Ma Ying-jeou asking government authorities not to carry out any execution before the review process would be completed. They stated that any eventual execution would seriously undermine the successful outcome of the review meeting and cause the international experts' possible withdrawal from their review assignment. On February 26 during the examination of ICCPR Articles 6 to 13, Novak has pointed out that notwithstanding the recent executions, the review committee members nonetheless decided to accomplish their duties and perform their responsibilities as previously accorded, with the aim of fostering the process of abolition of the death penalty in Taiwan.

Government representatives have repeatedly stated that the abolition of the death penalty is a sensitive issue in Taiwan, since 78% of the population supports it. The recent executions, for instance, had been carried out in the context of a growing concern regarding the actual level of security of Taiwanese society, in order to avoid further negative public reaction[2]. Given that the majority of the public opinion perceives the death penalty as a deterrent to criminal activities, official authorities have argued that the process of abolition must be a "gradual and progressive" one.

Asma Jahangir, head of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, has however stressed that in many countries where the death penalty has been now officially abrogated, the vast majority of the population was actually in favor of its use before the abolition process took place. She has moreover added that she understands that the process of abolition in Taiwan has to be "gradual and progressive", but she also called for government authorities to show a greater commitment in fastening the whole procedure.

Reiterating Jahangir's words, Novak has also pointed out that there is no clear evidence that the use of the death penalty acts as a crime deterrent, by adding that in the path toward abolition Taiwan should guarantee a greater compliance with the ICCPR with regard to the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence. All six death row inmates recently executed in December had indeed applied for pardon and were waiting for the president's decision on their request prior their execution. The priority of Taiwan's government, the international experts unanimously stated, however still remains to promptly impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty .

Another important issue highlighted by the review committee was the problem of forced evictions, which are currently affecting hundreds of family all over Taiwan. The experts addressed a number of specific cases, "but the most important point consisted in calling for Taiwan's government to provide proper consultation and adequate housing in case of proposed evictions," said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International's East Asia director.

Particular attention was laid on the highly controversial case of the forced eviction of the Huaguang community in Taipei. While a group of supporters and activists was demonstrating outside the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), showing their concern about the dramatic future of the community, some Huaguang representative members had the opportunity to directly illustrate their problematic housing situation to the international experts during the review meeting.

Huaguang residents are indeed facing an imminent and drastic eviction due to their "illegal occupation"[3] of the land where their dwellings are located, which is formally owned by the MOJ. The dislocation of the inhabitants and the demolition of their residences are the first steps toward the complete renewal of this traditional neighborhood located in the heart of Taipei, which seems to be doomed to become the new financial district of the city.

The review committee has pointed out that in this case, government legal proceedings aimed at the eviction of Huaguang community members and the demolition of their dwellings are evidently not complying with Article 11 of the ICESCR which, along with UN ICESCR General Comment 4 and 7, guarantees the right to adequate housing and declares the incompatibility of forced evictions with the requirements of the covenant. In particular, as highlighted by TAHR Executive Secretary Shih Yi-Hsiang, UN ICECSR General Comment 4(8) guarantees the legal protection of tenure, the latter defined also as "emergency housing and informal settlements, including occupation of land or property" – definition that clearly addresses the peculiar legal status of living communities such as the Huaguang community in Taipei.

In the "Concluding Observations", the international experts have therefore call for Taiwan's government to act accordingly the ICESCR by providing a formal consultation with Huaguang residents and by developing a settlement plan for the community members. In the meantime, they further added, the MOJ should halt forced evictions and demolitions plans in the area – and as pointed out by Shih Yi-Hsiang, Article 6 of the Implementation Act defines the "Concluding Observations" as a human rights report which has legal status, thus making it not just a compendium of suggestions but a set of abiding legal provisions.

With regard to refugee rights, Brian Barbour stated that Taiwan is one of the few Asian countries that actually has a refugee law, although still at draft stage. He suggested official authorities to take into account the comments that local NGOs submitted on the law to the committee members, with special reference to the exclusion of the Tibetan and Mainland Chinese population from the refugee law draft in Taiwan. He then added the importance of further investigating the issue of immigration detention and the situation of children who, in order to be kept with their detained parents, are currently imprisoned in Taiwan.

Most significantly, the international experts urged Taiwan's government to develop a follow-up plan and stressed the importance of an active collaboration between official authorities and civil society actors to comprehensively address human rights issues in Taiwan. According to the committee members, the government and local NGOs should interact more consistently to guarantee that progress is made in the implementation of the two UN covenants and in the enhancement of human rights protection in Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.


[1] After an unofficial moratorium on executions lasted from 2006 to 2009, in 2010 Taiwan's government resumed the use of the death penalty by carrying out four execution in April of the same year, five in March 2011 and six in December 2012.
[2] On December 2 2012 in Greater Tainan, a 10 year-old boy was found killed by a man who claimed that he was not worried about either the process nor the sentence, since he added that in Taiwan no one is sentenced to death for the murder of one or two people. The episode fueled a general feeling of indignation for and dissatisfaction with the national judicial system, which public opinion accused to be too clement toward criminals and inmates.
[3] The Huaguang community members have been recently sued by the MOJ with the alleged accusations of "illegal occupation" (違法占用) and "illegal profit" (不當得利), but given the particular history of this neighborhood, government's decision has triggered the indignation of Huaguang residents and their supporters. The peculiarity of this residential community has indeed to be traced back to 1949, when the Nationalist Party (Guomindang, KMT) flew from mainland China to Taiwan, followed by a high number of military and party officials, along with their families. As the lack of abundant land where to build dwellings for the "new incomers", government authorities offered military and official employees the chance to settle down in Huaguang neighborhood, which at that time was property of the MOJ. Since then, relatives of the first generation of KMT officials have been living in Huaguang, by paying taxes and being provided with water and electricity, among other services. What has been recently labeled as "illegal" seems suddenly not to take into consideration the "legal" agreement between KMT government and its employees in the past, which had not been questioned until a decade ago when a new urban project for the area was proposed.


Friday, 22 February 2013 00:00

China’s shadow cast upon the textbooks of Taiwan and Hong Kong

In recent times Taiwan and Hong Kong have both gotten caught up in text book controversies, although these have root in different political contexts, they are both closely tied to the "rise" of China and its expansionist policies.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011 00:00

Moral development is a life-long process

I teach in a School of Philosophy. I do not teach ethics, but I sometimes have to meet with questions related to this field. Students have been trained to reason in a very abstract way, and they like to come up with logical dilemmas, with problems seemingly impossible to solve. I have much difficulty in making them understand one very simple truth: in real life, you usually do not meet with abstract, logical cases, you muddle through situations that are multifaceted and require you to go through a process of discussion, discernment and progressive adjustment. There is rarely one logical answer to a given moral problem as actually experienced. You have to look for the minutiae of the case, to ask for your friend’s and your peer’s advice, and to come up with an answer that has to do with practical wisdom as much as with logical inferences.

Of course, it is good that students come up with such questions. It corresponds to one stage of moral development. You search for rules and principles, you exercise your capacity for judgment and consistency, and you do not satisfy yourself with easy arrangements: your conscience wants you to decide and to act according to clearly defined standards.

Still, other capacities are to be developed in order to live a truly ethical life. As rightly emphasized by feminist studies, empathy is one of them. Ethical judgment is concerned with real people and with needs to which you have to answer. And needs, especially the needs of the people who are the most vulnerable, are always special. If one truly wants to answer such needs, respect and care progressively appears to one’s conscience as the primary requisites. So, sense of care will develop along with empathy. Ethics will be lived less in terms of “principles” than in terms of “relationships.” Truth and life will come together, never separated from each other. Abstract truths can become deadly truths – or deadly lies. Conversely, a life lived without reference to the quest for truth will rapidly become meaningless, tasteless and obscured by insensitivity.

Ethical “sensitivity” will generally be acquired step by step. As we enter into complex, ever-evolving relationships, openness to others will challenge both our general principles and our self-absorption. Later in life, what we have learned throughout these relationships might blossom into a new set of standards and a larger vision. After having moved from general principles to specific relationships, we will be focusing again on universal concerns. But, at this stage, our convictions will have been nurtured by experiences slowly ruminated: care and empathy will have opened our heart and our mind to both universality and the infinite world of human differences.

Most of us do not move smoothly along the way. We may experience moral regressions as well as sudden awakenings. Other people will challenge our thought habits and prejudices – sometimes gently, sometimes less so -, and how we react to such challenges will prove to be essential in the process of moral development. The most important point is to recognize that living an ethical life is both a decision to be taken and a process to be nurtured – that is to say: both a decision to be periodically reaffirmed and a process that will end up only with our life.

Photo: C.P.


Tuesday, 25 May 2010 00:00

Towards a global ethic

On May 11th, 2010, the Inaugural International Forum on "Dialogue among Civilizations and Global Challenges" was held to open the new Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute at  Shanghai's Fudan University. Dr. Stephan Schlensog, the Secretary General of the Global Ethic Foundation, Tübingen/Germany, gave his speech on “Global Ethic as the Basis for the Dialogue of Civilizations”.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007 10:47

The Sustainability of Sustainability...

Michel Camdessus speaks of ethics, culture and spiritual values as "the sustainability of sustainability"...

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Monday, 09 October 2006 19:44

Ethics and Finance in a Globalizing World

Beijing, November 2005

I - A few lessons from 13 years at the IMF

My three mandates in the IMF (1992-2000) have coincided with the time when globalization has accelerated its pace and became the dominant feature of the time.

What was taking place was -at its beginning- difficult to identify as the major phenomenon now well analyzed. The only evidence was that something was taking place which was very different from what the founding fathers of the Bretton Woods institutions in 1944-1945 had foreseen. Things were moving so rapidly nevertheless and affecting so deeply the international community that international institutions had to move, to adapt themselves and to suggest new orientations to the membership. Globalized finance was one of the features of the change going on, but not the only one by far.

One of the first things I had to perceive was that in this new world, problems became so complex and intertwined that no institution -and even the IMF, in spite of the high technicality of the problems it had to address- could remain strictly technical, trusting the markets automatism to solve the human problems of our world and in particular the “ultimate systemic threat facing humanity ”, poverty. As an unacceptable level of poverty was to my judgment also the ultimate market failure, we had to obey an ethical sense of solidarity to find the way to assist the countries in need.

A second lesson derived from the uneven success of our programs for stabilization, growth and reduction of poverty in developing countries; it became crystal clear that their effective implementation and lasting success was tightly linked to the quality of the participation of all segments of the population to their preparation, adoption and implementation. This new ethical dimension had then to be introduced in the strategies of the IMF, and indeed it was, at least each time governments accepted to go that far.

Then came the Mexican and Asian crisis -the true first crisis of the XXI century- as they were so different from the crisis of the first 40 years of existence of the IMF which were mainly external payment crisis, often exacerbated by unsustainable debt. The Mexican crisis and much more evidently the Asian crisis were unlike any seen before. Crises of this new type explode on the open capital markets, arise from complex dysfunctions, particularly in the financial markets, and are much less exclusively macroeconomic in nature. They quickly take on systemic proportions, and can be checked only through the immediate mobilization of massive financing. Take the three major Asian crises, for example: Thailand, Indonesia and Korea. Dealing with them meant dealing with a three-dimensional problem: a dimension, obviously, of macroeconomic imbalances, along with massive outflows of short-term capital; an acute crisis in the financial sector, reflecting institutional and banking practice weaknesses; and a much more fundamental crisis in the prevailing economic management model. I am thinking here of unhealthy – I would even say incestuous – relations among corporations, banks, and government. This third dimension of corruption, collusion, and nepotism was making obvious that un-ethical behaviors in such a great scale could have dramatic systemic consequences and implied that fundamental reforms were immediately required. The financial universe could no more think, at least from that very moment, that there is such a thing as sound economics and finance, without solid ethical behaviors of the main actors in the public and private sectors.

But there is more. We had soon to acknowledge that -important as they may be- there is not such a thing as financial ethics in isolation. At the moment we were discovering the importance of ethics for finance, we were de facto invited to turn our attention to global ethics for the sustainability of a world were finances were leading the globalization.

Taken together these four lessons have contributed to the progressive emergence of a new paradigm of development. Let me emphasize two of its key features.

First, a progressive humanization of basic economic concepts. It is now recognized that the market can have major failures, that growth alone is not enough and can even be destructive of the natural environment or precious social goods and cultural values. Only the pursuit of high-quality growth is worth the effort. What is such growth?

• growth that can be sustained over time without causing domestic and external financial imbalance;

• growth that has the human person at its center, that is accompanied by adequate investment, particularly in education and health, to take full advantage of the tremendous leverage of human capital for future growth;

• growth that, to be sustainable, is based on a continuous effort for more equity, poverty and inequalities reduction, and empowerment of poor people; and

• growth that promotes protection of the environment, and respect for national cultural values.

Second, at a deeper level, we observe in recent approaches a striking and promising recognition of a convergence between a respect for fundamental ethical values and the search for efficiency required by market competition. Yes, you can see now a far wider recognition:

• that participatory democracy – that major conquest of the 20th century – can maximize the effectiveness of sound economies;

• that transparency, openness, and accountability are basic requirements for economic success;

• that combating collusion, corruption, and nepotism must be a major concern for the international financial institutions;

• that systematically dismantling the state is not the way to respond to the problems of modern economies; rather we must aim for a slimmer yet more effective state, able to provide the private sector with a solid framework in which the rule of law could prevail, on a level playing field; and

• that there is a mutually reinforcing relationship between macroeconomic stability and structural reform on one hand, and growth and the reduction of poverty and inequality on the other.

Stability and strong institutions are clearly essential for growth, and hence for poverty alleviation. But the converse is also true: popular support for stabilization and reform cannot be counted upon, unless the whole population, including the poorest—and by the poorest I mean those that not only are out of the loop, but even more are unable to contribute their experience—is able to participate in the formulation of the policies and, of course, in the benefits from those policies.

In short, a new economic paradigm is emerging. The new opportunities for growth created by the revolution in information technology and the opening of markets, combined with more resolute efforts to promote opportunities for all to share in the benefits of growth, will amplify the positive effects of macroeconomic and monetary stability. All of this together can transform globalization in a great opportunity for humanity provided that the emerging new paradigm is firmly rooted in fundamental human values and ethics, and here is where the contribution of the Chinese world will be essential.
(Image: C.P.)

II - What are these basic ethical values for a world of financial globalization?

Which values must we promote if we are determined to make sense of our history? Which values to guide us as the new century unfolds? This question has been with me all along these thirteen years in the IMF and I raised it with many interlocutors. When trying to draw the conclusions of so many conversations. I end up with three values: a sense of global responsibility, solidarity and of worldwide citizenship:

- a sense of global responsibility for each countries and for all including us as enterprises or us as simple citizens, to contribute to the human success of globalization;
- solidarity to alleviate and ultimately eradicate poverty; and
- a new sense of citizenship to back a new global governance.

1. Sense of responsibility

In our globalized financial world, whether a country is large or small, any crisis can now become systemic through contagion on the globalized markets. Domestic economic policy therefore must, now more than ever, take into account its potential worldwide impact; a duty of universal responsibility is incumbent upon all. Every country, large or small, is responsible for the stability and quality of world growth. When I say large, I must add that the responsibility is in some way in proportion with the size.

This adds a new dimension to the duty of excellence that is required of every government in the management of its economy. I use the word “excellence”; I could also say “absolute rectitude”. Globalization is a prodigious factor in accelerating and spreading the international repercussions of domestic policies – for better or worse. No country can escape, and all should be fully aware of the central importance of:

- rigor and transparency in overall economic management;
- growth that is centered on human development, social justice and respect of the environment; and
- government reform, seeking public sector efficiency, appropriate regulations, emphasis on the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, anticorruption measures, etc.

All of that is tantamount to recognize that economic progress is strongly dependant on the basic value of responsibility: the sense that each is responsible for the advancement of all, and on the harmony of social relations at national level and peace internationally. This should, in the end, allow each country to play a greater positive role for the prosperity of the global economy and to accept also the responsibility to contribute to the correction of what goes wrong in the working of the international financial system, and to start with, the inadequacy of financial information, and the failure to respect the rules of transparency so central for policy credibility and market stability.

In the face of a proliferation of increasingly sophisticated forms of financial intermediation, the delays in imposing the required discipline on international markets, which have been kept at the anarchic stage that the domestic markets of the industrial countries were at a century ago, has been particularly detrimental. Reforms of course have been adopted, but here we are in a field where, beyond the initiatives of governments and regulators, the ethical sense of individual actors and private companies can and must make a major difference. They must understand that in a medium to long term perspective, there is not any better way to care for their business than to care also for society and the common good. Yes this role of other actors -frequently from the private sector: enterprises, financial institutions and all components of civil society: labor unions, NGOs, religious organizations, etc. can be decisive. All of them, by their responsible behavior, can play an important role for the success of the newly emerging paradigm in humanizing globalization.

Here I would like to mention the growing conviction in the business community -exemplified by the “global compact” of the UN- that business has the ability to contribute more and more to building a better world. A new generation of globally responsible leaders is emerging whose decisions rely both on their awareness of principles and regulations and on their determination to follow guiding principles such as fairness, freedom, honesty, humanity, tolerance, transparency and of course, embracing all the previous ones: responsibility and sustainability.

These people as good businessmen are result oriented and so attach the highest importance to key action areas through which corporate global responsibility can be nurtured and developed. They include:

- tuning into societal and environmental business context,
- overcoming key organizational, regulatory and societal barriers to change,
- developing stakeholder engagement skills such as careful listening and the ability to engage in dialogue,
- transforming the culture of the firm by changing attitudes and behaviours,
- understanding the purpose of change,
- designing change management processes, and,
- rewarding globally responsible behaviour through improved performance measures and systems.

Under such an inspiration, they see as of the highest importance every effort to initiate to business ethics of the students of business schools around the world.

2. Solidarity to fight poverty

When considering all the positive dynamics at work in our world, the slowness of progress in reducing poverty appears all the more unacceptable. I need not describe in graphic terms the extent of present human deprivation-you know them at least as well as I.
The widening gaps between regions and rich and poor within nations, and the gulf between the most affluent and most impoverish nations, are morally outrageous, economically wasteful, and potentially socially explosive. Now we know that it is not enough to increase the size of the cake; the way it is shared is deeply relevant to the dynamism of development. If the poor are left hopeless, poverty will undermine the fabric of our societies though confrontation, violence and civil disorder. If we are committed to the promotion of human dignity and peace, we cannot afford to ignore poverty and the risks it entails for peace. We all must work together to relieve all this human suffering. This is what solidarity means as an obvious central value for a unifying world. But the fight for peace in the world and solidarity must go hand in hand as peace is an inescapable precondition for durable economic progress. When considering the tragic situation of an impressive part of Africa, where so many countries are directly or indirectly involved in military or civil or ethnic tribes conflicts, how could we entertain any illusion that progress in human conditions is achievable if these conflicts are not brought to an end? At least there must be a major effort – well beyond what we see today –to reduce tensions and to prevent new wars from being started. If through a diversity of initiatives better prospects for peace can emerge, then good windows of opportunity for development could appear. But many other conditions will have to be put in place for its process to become effective.

Here, the poor countries themselves are on the front line, and we have learn that their success on the fight against poverty depend crucially on their own sense of responsibility in promoting good governance and sound policies, in making poverty alleviation the centerpiece of economic policy, together with a renewed emphasis on rapid growth led by the private sector. But for them, also, success lies in national “ownership” of the policies, through a participatory approach that engages civil society in a constructive dialogue. If this is the case, the rest of the world should then be ready to move promptly when these countries indicate that they need support. But then, how can development partners support the efforts of the poorest countries? Let me point to four areas.

First, on the trade front, by assigning the highest priority to providing unrestricted market access for all exports from the poorest countries, including the heavily indebted poor countries, so that these countries can begin to benefit more deeply from integration into the global trading system.

Second, by supporting policies that encourage the inflows of private capital, especially foreign direct investment with its twin benefits of new finance and technology transfers.

Third, by contributing financially. Here we are dealing with an issue which goes beyond – important as it may be – the simple provision of badly needed financing. It is an issue closely related to the basic fabric of a unifying world community: the mutual trust among its members which implies that giving one’s word means just that. Over the past decade, we have witnessed two rather paradoxical phenomena. On the one hand, while the industrial countries have happily been collecting their peace dividends, they have steadily reduced their official development assistance, falling further and further short of the target of 0.70 percent of GDP which all – with the exception of the United States – had pledged to achieve for the year 2000. At the same time, at one world conference after another, they committed themselves, along with developing and transition countries, to promote measurable and achievable human development objectives now encapsulated in the MDG.

Fourth, by being faithful to our pledge, in the occasion of the Monterrey (Mexico) Finance for Development Conference in 2002 to establish, from now on, our cooperation for development on the basis of partnership.

But what does such a substitution should entail: words or substance? A major change indeed. Partnership is dialogue among equals. It implies that your partner in that dialogue makes himself his own choices and defines his own priorities. It implies also total frankness on both sides and full acceptation of the critical judgment of your counterpart on your own policies; and equally a deep respect for the ethical demands, the culture and the traditions of the other, including in the organization of the public life. It requires that no one beg his neighbour and fulfill his full share of responsibilities. It means full acceptation of a join walk on the new trails of globalization, each taking care of adapting his steps to the walk of the other… Partnership as understood in Monterrey doesn’t limit itself to government’s policies. It is a multidimensional concept associating on both sides, enterprises, financial institutions and civil societies, all being invited to enter into this new kind of relations beyond their national borders.

Imagine for a moment that these pledges were actually fulfilled: what a giant step this could be toward a better world, what a giant step it would be toward improving the lot of the most disadvantaged among the poor – women and children! But many of the world’s top leaders have been losing sight of these pledges. Let’s use all our influence including as private citizens to make sure that, particularly after the New York Summit of last September, the OMD are given the highest priorities by our governments. This worldwide mobilization of public opinion will be only a small step, but it is important in view of the fragility of our collective commitments. We must make the first decade of the new century one of fulfillment of past pledges. If we allow cynicism to prevail in this area, we may as well give up the dream of progressing to a more fraternal global society. This is a matter of great urgency. Yes, we need a jolt of responsibility and solidarity.

Having touched upon the key aspects of a poverty reduction strategy, let me underline that what I am referring to here is not our obligation of generosity toward a world much poorer than ours, but our contribution to strengthening the very fabric of a world which is now one; a fabric the solidity of which is crucially dependent on the elimination of war, the respect for pledges and the active support for those who want to stand on their own feet.

3. Participatory democracy and subsidiarity in world governance

This being said and beyond the poverty problem, we know only too well that in today’s world, many people suffer from a lack of control over their own destiny and fear that there is no legitimate authority to deal with problems that are increasingly taking on worldwide dimensions, such as threats to the environment, increases in the use of drugs, widespread corruption, crime, money laundering, etc. For all these issues as for poverty, I fail to see any satisfactory solution without introducing in all places where human issues are addressed more democratic participatory governance.

In the context of globalization, the whole issue of governance must be revisited not with the view of setting up some sort of world economic government; but with two more limited ambitions:

- in the one hand, to offer to all human beings a say on their own destiny, and
- on the other, to find a global response to inescapable problems of worldly dimension.

The task is, nevertheless, formidable. We are the first generation in history to be confronted with the need to organize and to manage the world, not from a position of power such as Alexander’s, or Caesar’s, or the Allies’ at the end of World War II, but through a recognition of the universal responsibilities of all peoples and citizens and of a universal duty of solidarity and cooperation through partnership.

The challenge is, of course, primarily to introduce more and more citizens participation at all levels of national governance. It is also to find mechanisms for managing the international economy, which would at the same time (1) preserve the sovereignty of national governments; (2) help smooth the effective working of markets; (3) ensure international financial stability; and (4) offer solutions to problems which transcend the boundaries of the nation-state, and to which we are responding unsatisfactorily now by over-stretching existing institutions. A tall order indeed! To understand this, we need merely compare our world to the world in 1945. Each country has now achieved sovereignty, each wants to shoulder its full responsibility in the face of global problems, and we know that the effective participation of each country in managing the “global village” is key to the future of the village. Furthermore, while globalization has until now operated at the whim of more or less autonomous financial and technological forces, it is high time that we put in place the appropriate mechanism so that progress towards world unity can be made consistently and in the service of humankind. What is required are institutions which can facilitate joint reflection at the highest levels, whenever needed, and which are capable of ensuring that globalized strategies are adopted and implemented when it appears that those problems can be dealt with effectively at the global level. The problems are serious and many. I would like to point out just three of them: (1) lack of appropriate institutions in new fields of major global concern; (2) respect for the old principle of subsidiarity; (3) fair representation in international economic decision-making.

The founding fathers of the United Nations system made a good job in 1944-1945 to solve the problems they were foreseeing. But of course, sixty years later, we must confront issues at that time unexpected, such as environment and migrations. This calls for the creation of institutions properly equipped to help governments to face them in a proper multilateral spirit.

Whatever our reluctance to add to the bureaucratic apparatus of the UN, it is crystal clear that the world will have – the sooner the better – to face this unjustifiable lacuna, a lacuna on which public voices remain generally silent and which is only brought to our minds, but so far to no avail, when a major environmental catastrophe takes place.

Together with the environment, anti-trust and migrant-worker issues would also justify the creation of freestanding bodies at a global level. Needless to say that the cost of establishing such institutions could be offset at least partly by further streamlining the system in other fields.

This being said, multilateral institutions must be exemplary in their respect of the subsidiarity principle, formulated centuries ago we are now rediscovering. It means that the worldwide institutions must tackle and solve problems of an economic, social, political or cultural character, which are posed by the universal common good. But without intending to limit the sphere of action of the public authority of the individual state, much less to take its place. On the contrary, its purpose is to create, on a world basis, an environment in which the public authorities of each state, its citizens and intermediate associations, can carry out their tasks, fulfill their duties and exercise their rights with greater security. This suggests that the more we see the need to consolidate or to grant new responsibilities in world bodies, the more it is also necessary to let them know that their contribution can only be subsidiary. Everyone must understand that nothing can be accomplished at the global level unless it has been taken up at the grassroots level and supported by initiatives of the entire institutional chain from the local to the global level. Responsible citizenship at all levels must be one of the key values of the 21st century.

The more we recognize we must give more leverage to global and regional institutions to tackle worldwide problems, the more we must promote fair representation in their decisions-making bodies. The situation, at this stage, is unsatisfactory. Talking about the financial institutions, I would insist on the following.

The legitimacy of the Bretton Woods Institutions is increasingly questioned. The mounting universal demands for more participatory governance at all levels of governance in society, apply of course also to them and particularly to the way in which they must accommodate the growing role of new players, particularly from Asia. A lot is at stake for the international climate of the next decades, depending on whether they will be invited soon to share global responsibilities or they will have to fight for them. Progress so far has been slow, to say the least. Knowing pretty well the hesitations, I suggest four measures that could distinctly strengthen world governance in a participatory direction.

1/ Make more explicit who does bear the real political responsibilities in these institutions

2/ Reopen the debate on the size and composition of their Executive Boards

This reform would simultaneously respond to the situation newly created by the progress of the European Union toward its integration, the growing importance in world economic terms of the emerging markets and the difficult issue of “voice” for Africa which still awaits a convincing response.

3/ Reform the procedures for the selection of management

The rules and practices for the appointment of the Managing Director of the IMF and the President of the World Bank should also be changed and the new system enacted on the next relevant occasion. Both Europe and the United States should renounce their present “privileges” in 2004.

4/ Contribute to a more participatory world governance

To gain increased relevance, the G8 must continue opening itself up. Drawing the lessons of the experiences of recent years, we could propose, in this regard, that each G8 summit be coupled with an “extended meeting” to which all heads of State and Governments from the countries represented in the new Council should be invited. This would be a way to put in place a “global governance group”, whose orientations would carry much more credibility, legitimacy and influence than the G8 and G-20 today.

These few remarks on participatory governance, including at world level, are in my view another illustration of the mutually reinforcing character of the initiatives for making ethical principles to prevail and of the efforts to make national and international institutions more efficient, while promoting a needed climate of partnership.

Ethics in a globalizing world where international finances are gaining so much importance: what is needed is to identify the values that men and women today can use to make sense of their history. Our history has not yet been fully written -it is still in our hands- and notwithstanding its risks, globalization is an opportunity to move toward a world economy that is more worthy of the human race. This implies that we take action on the three values to which I have been referring and that many around the world can recognize: responsibility, solidarity and at all levels, participatory citizenship. Thanks to them we could go a long way:

- from disorderly and instable markets to better regulated ones,
- from a world dominated by self-interest to one where gratuitousness would be recognized,
- from a world exclusively nations-centered to a multilaterally-oriented one,
- from a world where governments see themselves as exclusively in charge of the common good to one where a dense network of partnerships would associate enterprises and civil society to the common objective of the humanization of the world.

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